What attracted you to the role in Pimped?
I had just started working again after taking some time off to have a baby. I feel that film roles like the one in Pimped, where I got to play two characters don’t come along very often. After working steadily on network television for the past few years it seemed difficult to get auditions for lead roles in feature films, let alone book them. The financing usually depends on them having an illustrious name at the helm, so I think I was very lucky that the lead actress had pulled out unexpectedly last minute [Tess Haubrich was initially attached to the project] and they were pushed to replace her very fast. And that the financing was not contingent with the casting.
I read the script and found the subject matter incredibly provocative. It scared the shit out of me but also got my imagination working overtime on how to believably carry off this experiment in two characters acting with each other. My main concerns were how this sort of confronting shoot would go with a first-time feature film director and how we would accomplish the sort of effects we would require on a limited indie film budget. It could have gone one of two ways. After having met with David [Barker, director] and heard all his ideas, I felt confident that he had a very specific vision of what he wanted to create and that he was happy to have his actors bring their own ideas to the table about how we would shoot this twisted tale.
Were you excited/daunted in playing the lead role?
Absolutely both. More excited than anything. Any actor who considers themselves a character actor, which I always wanted to be seen as, would give their front teeth to play two characters on screen. It’s very unusual creative terrain. I felt daunted at the idea of some of the raunchy stuff, I was in a pretty vulnerable, fragile headspace after having had a baby. I found the film pretty damn dark and was worried by the revenge part of the plot. I liked the surprise element of the violence in this, as an audience I don’t think you expect it. We feel like we are in psychological thriller territory and then the bloodier stuff comes as a surprise hopefully. I found the script pretty mesmerising to read, I thought it was a sci-fi time travelling thing for the first 20 minutes. I got through it on my smashed iphone on a plane from Melbourne as I breastfed my daughter and felt that was a good sign.
What themes of the film resonated with you?
I found the nihilism of the two main characters troubling to begin with but on deeper excavation in rehearsals I think I realised Sarah/Rachel was more than that. I know Benedict [Samuel] had done a lot of reading on psychopathy and I felt that his character was definitely in that territory, but Sarah too had elements of it. There was a numbness to her that I found fascinating to explore. I was intrigued by the duality of selves in her, this split that has occurred in her. Why it had happened. What trauma had she suffered to make her like that? I think a lot of mothers would relate to that difficulty in settling into the new identity of mother/wife and the world wanting to confine you in that arena when women still want to be perceived as forces of agency in their own lives. It was, no matter how immoral, still a feminine hero journey and that held huge appeal to me no matter what choices she makes. She has agency in her life and is struggling to reconcile herself as a protective, loving mother who grounds her family, and a being who wants to take risks and live in a sensual world of desire and passion.
Do you personally enjoy genre fare? Ever seen Crimes of Passion, as I think there are resonances there with the role here.
I am not a mad genre fan. I completely respect it as an art form and when it is done right, I find the visceral effect on you as an audience member leaves an indelible mark. I probably remember those moments in the cinema more than many others, such as the scariest scenes in Wolf Creek and Silence of the Lambs. I chomp through a lot of true crime writing and podcasts but don’t love being visually confronted with horror or violence. Our first AD [Michael Faranda] was very sensitive about how triggering some of the stuff we filmed can be for people. In this climate, where we are talking a lot about how to deal with consent on set and how to film sex and violence sensitively and responsibly, I was heartened by the way all that was handled. We spent these massively long days locked up in this spooky dark house doing hideous things to each other and then I would go home to domestic mummy town. Benedict and I would drive each other home late at night listening to very loud dance music to wash it out of our system. I have never seen the film you mentioned but will have a look at it. I did find the Denis Villeneuve film Enemy helpful in preparing. Jake Gyllenhaal plays two characters in that, on screen with each other. Villeneuve also creates such a unique otherworldly tone in that film too. I went back to look at the French film Baise Moi which had some parallels. And I have to admit to watching The Parent Trap to see how they did it back in the day. In a far sweeter and wholesome world…
Can you talk about your approach with regards to portraying the two characters that you play in the film?
I relied hugely on David’s input with how to do this convincingly. We worked so fast and shot at all hours of the day and night, so sometimes I felt like I would lose my way a bit between the two characters. As an actor I don’t find it very helpful watching stuff back immediately on the monitor, so I did put a lot of trust in David to alert me when we lost Rachel’s voice or physicality…We had lots of talks beforehand about how to film these scenes. I had a wonderful actress, Lauren Orrell, as a sort of stand-in on hand in every scene where Sarah and Rachel were playing against each other. Sometimes I found I had to be careful with that because I didn’t want to be reacting to what she was giving me in her own unique interpretation. I would try and imagine the way I would do the scene, then often get her to do a fairly neutral read so I could imagine what I would do when the camera turned around. Sometimes we just used a tripod with a bit of tape, so we got the best shot and I had no distraction. It was a constantly evolving thing, the make-up artist Sue [Carroll] had a mammoth task in converting me back and forth between the two characters, sometimes multiple times in a day, and often under stupidly fast deadlines. In preparation, I had two scripts for each character and approached the script analysis as if I was preparing for two completely separate roles.
As the shoot went on, we all got a lot better and faster at doing the changeover. On a technical level it is complicated to film those scenes and time consuming because you basically film every scene twice over. And you have to be stupidly careful you don’t move anything by a whisker in the background of the scene while you flip the characters around, or it shows up as a dead giveaway when it gets edited together. That part of it felt very exciting, it was like we were playing a very strange game of revolving musical statues. Sometimes having to make such fast decisions on the fly created interesting unscripted moments too, so that was a good reminder that some of the magic of doing indie film is that things can look like a problem on the day and then the solution works better than you had expected.
Pimped is in cinemas March 14, 2019